At least 24 people were killed after a blaze gutted a mental health clinic in a commercial building in the Japanese city of Osaka on Friday, local media said, with police reportedly considering it a possible arson case.
The fire broke out mid-morning and raged for half an hour on the fourth floor of the clinic, which also provided general medical care.
The clinic’s charred interior was visible through burnt-out window frames as firefighters put up a tarpaulin to block the scene from view.
Public broadcaster NHK and other major Japanese media said 24 people had died, citing local police, who did not immediately confirm the toll.
Earlier on Friday, an Osaka fire department official feared 27 people had perished in the blaze. In Japan, only a doctor can officially certify a death.
“The municipal fire department is investigating the cause of the fire. I have received a report that Osaka police is investigating the fire as possible arson,” regional governor Hirofumi Yoshimura said on Twitter.
Japanese media said a man in his 50s or 60s had allegedly dispersed a liquid to start the blaze.
Kyodo News, citing police sources, said the man had placed a paper bag containing a flammable liquid next to a heater, which he then kicked over to ignite.
Masakatsu Shinozaki, 74, the owner of a shop across the street from the building, told AFP he had seen a lot of smoke coming out of the windows.
“I saw a girl shouting for help from the sixth floor, but I didn’t realise there were so many people in the building,” he said.
“Fire is really scary. It takes away everything. A thief can take away some items. But a fire takes away everything.”
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida offered his “sincere condolences” to the victims and sympathy to those injured in the incident.
“We must get to the bottom of this horrible case. We must clarify the cause and how it happened. And we must take measures to prevent the same thing from happening again,” he said.
Dozens of fire engines rushed to the scene of the blaze, which occurred in a busy business area near Kitashinchi train station in the city in western Japan.
Osaka, a major economic hub, is Japan’s second-biggest metropolis after the greater Tokyo region.
NHK said 14 men and 10 women had died in the fire but were yet to be identified, adding that all the victims had been in the clinic on the fourth floor.
A young woman who witnessed the fire told the broadcaster she had seen a woman leaning out of a window “saying things like ‘Please help'”.
“She seemed very weak. Maybe she inhaled lots of smoke,” the woman said.
“There was a lot of dark smoke… there was a very strong smell, too,” a middle-aged woman told NHK at the scene.
Fuji TV reported that most of those who died in the fire were believed to have suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Deadly fires are unusual in Japan, which has strict building standards, and violent crime is rare.
One year ago, a man was charged with murder over a 2019 arson attack on a Kyoto animation studio that killed 36 people, the country’s deadliest violent crime in decades.
The attack sent shockwaves through the anime industry and its fans in Japan and around the world.
A 2008 arson attack on a video shop in Osaka killed 16 people. The attacker is now on death row.
The Federal Ministry of Justice in collaboration with the UNDP Nigeria and the government of Japan is launching a virtual court programme in correctional centers across Nigeria, with the Kuje Correctional Center, as the pilot location.
A Supreme Court verdict had on July 14, 2020, affirmed virtual proceedings following limitations caused by the pandemic.
As a result, the Ministry of Justice encouraged courts and correctional centers to establish virtual court sittings to address the backlog of cases.
The programme will allow courts to hear cases without transporting inmates to physical locations and reduce the backlog and time spent in pre-trial detention, while also helping to reduce administration and operational costs
In attendance at the event were the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister Of Justice, Abubakar Malami; Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola; representative of the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, amongst others.
Japan has asked airlines to stop taking new incoming flight bookings over concerns about the Omicron virus variant, the transport ministry said Wednesday.
The announcement came as authorities announced they had detected a second infection with the new strain in an arriving traveler, a day after confirming the first case.
“We have asked airlines to halt accepting all new incoming flight reservations for one month starting December 1,” a transport ministry official told AFP, adding that existing bookings would not be affected.
Japan’s government has already tightened its tough border measures, banning entry of all non-citizens coming from 10 southern African nations.
Quarantine measures have also been toughened for citizens and foreign residents coming from several dozen more countries and territories over virus fears.
Japanese officials said the second case of Omicron was confirmed on Wednesday in a traveler arriving from Peru who entered the country last month.
The first case, announced Tuesday, involved a man arriving from Namibia.
Japan’s borders have been virtually sealed throughout most of the pandemic, with even residents barred from entry for part of 2020.
The border measures have been a key part of the country’s Covid response, which has not involved the tough lockdowns seen in some parts of the world.
After a summer surge in cases, Japan is registering only double-digit infections nationwide most days and has logged around 18,360 deaths during the pandemic.
Around 77 percent of the country’s population is now fully vaccinated, and booster shots began being administered on Wednesday to people who received their second dose at least eight months ago.
Japan on Tuesday confirmed its first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant, a day after authorities announced new Covid border restrictions.
“Regarding the traveller arriving from Namibia, it was confirmed to be a case of Omicron after analysis at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases,” government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters.
“This is the first Omicron case confirmed in Japan,” he said, adding that the infected traveller, a man in his 30s, is now in isolation at a medical facility.
The announcement came a day after Japan tightened its border rules again, barring all new foreign arrivals just weeks after relaxing tough regulations to allow some students and business travellers entry.
The new rules mean only Japanese citizens and existing foreign residents can enter the country, with few exemptions, and those coming from areas with known Omicron cases require hotel quarantines ranging from three to 10 days.
Japan has recorded just over 18,300 coronavirus cases during the pandemic while avoiding tough lockdowns.
After a slow start, its vaccination programme picked up speed and nearly 77 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated.
Japan will reinstate tough border measures, barring all new foreign arrivals over the Omicron Covid variant, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced Monday, just weeks after a softening of strict entry rules.
“We will ban the (new) entry of foreigners from around the world starting from November 30th,” Kishida told reporters.
Japan’s borders have been almost entirely shut to new overseas visitors for most of the pandemic, with even foreign residents at one point unable to enter the country.
In early November, the government announced it would finally allow some short-term business travellers, foreign students and other visa holders to enter the country, while continuing to bar tourists.
Tokyo had already announced on Friday it would require travellers permitted to enter Japan from six southern African countries to quarantine in government-designated facilities for 10 days on arrival. The step was expanded to a total of nine countries over the weekend.
That measure now affects travellers coming from South Africa and neighbouring Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique.
Kishida said Monday that further quarantine restrictions would be imposed on arrivals from an additional 14 countries and regions where the variant has been detected, without giving further details.
The prime minister said Japan is “in a stronger position against the Omicron variant than other countries,” citing voluntary mask-wearing and self-restraints about risk behaviours.
Japan has recorded just over 18,300 coronavirus deaths during the pandemic, while avoiding tough lockdowns. After a slow start, the country’s vaccination programme picked up speed, with 76.5 percent of the population now fully inoculated.
It has not detected any Omicron cases but the National Institute of Infectious Diseases is analysing a case of a traveller from Namibia who recently tested positive for the coronavirus.
Kishida said he recognised there “might be criticism” that the border tightening was “too cautious when we don’t have a full understanding of the situation.”
Storied Japanese conglomerate Toshiba will split into three companies, it said Friday, following a campaign by investors to boost the firm’s shares after a period of enormous upheaval.
The board approved a plan that will spin two companies off from the rest of Toshiba’s operations within two years, with one focused on infrastructure and the second on devices, and both eventually being listed.
The firm said the decision would allow each business to “significantly increase its focus and facilitate more agile decision-making and leaner cost structures”.
That would leave them “much better positioned to capitalise on their distinct market positions, priorities and growth drivers to deliver sustainable profitable growth and enhanced shareholder value”, it added.
The decision, reported in Japanese media earlier this week, followed calls by activist investors who wanted “moves to shake the company up and get investors to reevaluate it and hopefully get a higher share price”, said LightStream Research analyst Mio Kato, who publishes on Smartkarma.
The decision caps a period of tumult at the firm, once a symbol of Japan’s advanced technological and economic power.
In June, shareholders voted to oust the board’s chairman after a series of scandals and losses, in a rare victory for activist investors in corporate Japan.
The move followed the damaging revelations of an independent probe that concluded Toshiba attempted to block shareholders from exercising their proposal and voting rights.
It also detailed how the firm had pursued an intervention from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry to help sway a board vote.
And in April an unexpected buyout offer from a private equity fund associated with then-CEO Nobuaki Kurumatani stirred uproar, with allegations it was intended to blunt the influence of activist investors.
Other offers emerged subsequently, and Kurumatani resigned in April, though he insisted it was not related to the buyout controversy.
Hideki Yasuda, an analyst with Ace Research Institute, said it would take time to assess the consequences of the split.
“Corporate value is maximised by individual segments working on their own, so the plan is a good one if you look at that aspect of it,” he told AFP.
“Another way to look at it is that the three entities, which had organic business coordination, will be divided… It’s conceivable that in reality their efficiency might decline as a whole,” he said.
The move risks failing to address issues facing Toshiba including governance reform, said Kato, with management focused on responding to investor pressure instead.
“I think you still need probably another three, four years to really put Toshiba where it should be but I don’t think they’re willing to wait,” he said.
The firm’s shares ended the day 1.32 percent down at 4,872 yen, having fallen as much as 3.6 percent earlier in the day.
Toshiba said the move was the first-ever spin-off scheme for a Japanese company of its size, and Yasuda said it would be closely watched in the country, with its success or failure likely to influence others.
“If it ends well, I think shareholder pressure may increase for other conglomerates to take similar steps. But if it fails, then business managers may feel that being conglomerates reduces risks.”
Japan’s Princess Mako married her university sweetheart on Tuesday, but it was a low-key union bereft of traditional rituals, with the couple voicing sadness over the controversy that haunted their engagement.
Under the rules of the imperial family, Emperor Naruhito’s 30-year-old niece Mako gave up her royal title as she wed Kei Komuro, who is the same age and works for a US law firm.
“To me, Kei is irreplaceable. Our marriage is a necessary step for us to be able to protect our hearts,” she told reporters after the marriage was registered.
“I have been scared, feeling sadness and pain whenever one-sided rumours turn into groundless stories,” she added as the newlyweds read out rehearsed statements in a soberly decorated hotel function room.
Since announcing their engagement in 2017, the couple has faced tabloid scandals and vicious online sniping over allegations that Komuro’s family had run into financial difficulties.
After much delay, they finally tied the knot with no wedding ceremony, reception banquet or any of the usual rites — opting to do so privately, away from a public that has not always been kind.
Mako also turned down a large payment usually offered to royal women on their departure, reportedly up to 153 million yen ($1.35 million), and they are now said to be planning a move to the United States.
Royals are held to exacting standards in Japan, and Mako has developed complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder because of the media attention, according to the Imperial Household Agency.
“I love Mako. We only get one life, and I want us to spend it with the one we love,” Komuro said.
“I feel very sad that Mako has been in a bad condition, mentally and physically, because of the false accusations.”
The couple did not answer questions from reporters verbally, to make the experience less stressful for Mako, the household said.
But in a document given to reporters, she said her condition was “not good”.
Women in the imperial family cannot ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne, and lose their royal status when they marry a commoner.
TV footage showed the princess bid farewell to her family on Tuesday morning, bowing to her mother and father, Crown Prince Akishino, and hugging her sister.
Despite the negative press coverage and small but angry protests against the marriage, more than half of respondents in a survey by the Yomiuri Shimbun daily said they thought it was a good thing.
“The most important thing is that she is happy,” Tokyo resident Machiko Yoshimoto, in her 60s, told AFP.
“It would have been better to have a festive atmosphere, instead of this difficult situation, which is rather sad and regrettable,” said Shigehiro Hashimoto, 54.
While Japanese media initially fawned over Komuro, reports soon emerged that his mother had failed to repay a four-million-yen loan from a former fiance.
As pressure grew on the couple, the wedding was postponed and Komuro moved to New York for law school in 2018, a move seen as a bid to defuse negative attention.
Mako said on Tuesday she had encouraged Komuro to “establish a life overseas”.
Their reported plan to move to the US, where Komuro works, has drawn inevitable comparisons with another royal couple who faced a media onslaught: Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
It is not clear if Mako will work, but she is well qualified, having studied art and cultural heritage at Tokyo’s International Christian University. She also holds a Master’s degree from Britain’s University of Leicester.
The Japanese throne can pass only to male members of the family, and the children of female royals who marry commoners are not included.
There has been some debate over changing the rules, and a government panel in July compiled notes on the issue including a proposal that royal women stay in the family, even after marriage.
Although polls show the public broadly support women being allowed to rule, any change is likely to be slow, with traditionalists vehemently opposed.
US President Joe Biden offered his congratulations Monday to Japan’s new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, saying the “historic partnership” between the two nations will help them face the world’s ongoing challenges.
“The US-Japan Alliance is the cornerstone of peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and the world, and I look forward to working closely with Prime Minister Kishida to strengthen our cooperation in the months and years ahead,” Biden said in a statement.
“The historic partnership between our two democracies and our two peoples will continue to be a critical asset as we work together to take on the challenges of our time.”
The 64-year-old Kishida, a soft-spoken centrist in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), easily won Monday’s vote in the Japanese parliament approving him to lead the world’s third largest economy.
He succeeds former prime minister Yoshihide Suga, who had announced he would not stand for the LDP leadership after just one year in office.
Biden said he commended Suga “for a successful tenure.”
The passing week has been a very eventful one globally with the world still battling COVID-19 and trying to adjust to the new reality.
Nigeria is never left a week without drama, as events continue to take different turns, leading the authorities to take certain drastic actions that got tongues wagging.
Having reviewed most of the major stories from the passing week, both locally and on the foreign scene, here are top quotes that tend to paint a vivid picture of what transpired and perhaps give us a hint of some things we must expect in the coming days:
1. “If I follow APC for this length of time, and they don’t give the Southeast an opportunity, I will feel bad.”
Governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, says he will feel bad if the All Progressives Congress (APC) does not give the South-East a chance at the presidency, come 2023.
2. “I remain committed to his agenda for our great Nation and shall continue to support him in any way possible.”
Former Minister of Power, Sale Mamman, declares his support for the Muhammadu Buhari administration following his sack by the President.
3. “Today at the executive meeting, (party) president Suga said he wants to focus his efforts on anti-coronavirus measures and will not run in the leadership election.”
Secretary General of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Toshihiro Nikai, reveals that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will not run for re-election as party leader in September.
4. “The sooner the Taliban will enter the family of civilised people, so to speak, the easier it will be to contact, communicate, and somehow influence and ask questions.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin says he hopes the Taliban will behave in a “civilised” manner in Afghanistan so the global community can maintain diplomatic ties with Kabul.
5. “I am the landlord, I didn’t give myself, the constitution gave me that power.”
Taraba State Governor, Darius Ishaku issues a stern warning to residents of the Mambilla Plateau, urging them not to sell lands to “selfish politicians” who storm the area in order to benefit from compensations meant for the Mambilla hydroelectric power project site.
6. “The report of the audit committee showed that there are over 13,000 abandoned projects in the Niger Delta and even before the submission of the report, some contractors have returned to site on their own and completed about 77 road projects.”
The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio says the Forensic Audit Report of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) indicates that there are over 13,000 abandoned projects within the coastal region.
7. “Nigeria has 10.6 million cannabis users, this is the highest in the world, isn’t it sad?”
9. “This is to confirm to you that suspected kidnappers at about 06:45hrs along Lagos-Benin expressway, by Isuwa, kidnapped five unidentified persons and in the process shot to death one Sowore Felix Olajide, male, a pharmacy student of Igbinedion University, Okada.”
The Edo State Police Command confirms the murder of Olajide Sowore, brother to Sahara Reporters Publisher, Omoyele Sowore by suspected kidnappers.
10. “The trajectory into the future is bright. If you see some of the things we have been able to do under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari to exit recession in record time, most established democracies are still battling with the recession.”
Despite the current challenges facing Nigeria, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, is optimistic that the nation’s trajectory is good.
11. “For us to reach the level of development that we need in our country, every part, segment and strata of the society must have a developed, deliberately focused leadership, so that what we do at the local level compliments what we do at the state level and from there, terminating at the apex – at the Federal level.”
Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, attributes leadership deficit as one of the factors preventing Nigeria from achieving sustainable economic growth and development, and addressing insecurity and other socioeconomic problems.
12. “We apologize to anyone who may have seen these offensive recommendations.”
Facebook apologizes and disables its topic recommendation feature after it mistook Black men for “primates” in video at the social network.
13. “The committee is to identify grazing routes and work with states and map them. It is not to recover grazing routes, it is to identify the scale of the problem.”
Kebbi State Governor Atiku Bagudu, argues that mapping out grazing routes will help to identify the scale of the herder-farmer crisis.
14. “Police have located the man and he has been shot. He has died at the scene.”
Authorities in New Zealand speak after police shoot dead a man who wounded six people in an attack at an Auckland supermarket.
18. “If you look at the President’s statement, in no place will you see that; not at all. In no place will you see those words that performance was weak, he didn’t say that.”
President Buhari’s media adviser, Femi Adesina, makes clarifications regarding the sacking of two ministers.
19. “Well, it happened because, perhaps for the first time in the history of the country, and of the NNPC, there is a President who is not using the place like a personal Automated Teller Machine (ATM).”
The Media Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari, Femi Adesina, explains why the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) recently declared profit.
The election must be called by late October, and the LDP is expected to remain in power but possibly lose seats as a result of Suga’s unpopularity.
His government’s approval rating has nosedived to an all-time low of 31.8 percent according to a poll by the Kyodo news agency last month.
And recent reports about his plans for a cabinet reshuffle, as an attempt to remedy his unpopularity, appeared to be insufficient.
Suga has been battered by his government’s response to the pandemic, with Japan struggling through a record fifth wave of the virus after a slow start to its vaccine programme.
Much of the country is currently under virus restrictions, and the measures have been in place in some areas for almost the entire year.
But they have been insufficient to stop a surge in cases driven by the more contagious Delta variant, even as the vaccine programme has picked up pace with nearly 43 percent of the population fully inoculated.
Japan has recorded nearly 16,000 deaths during the pandemic.
The 72-year-old Suga’s election as prime minister last year capped a lengthy political career.
Before taking the top office he served in the prominent role of chief cabinet secretary, and he had earned a fearsome reputation for wielding his power to control Japan’s sprawling and powerful bureaucracy.
The son of a strawberry farmer and a schoolteacher, Suga was raised in rural Akita in northern Japan and put himself through college after moving to Tokyo by working at a factory.
He was elected to his first office in 1987 as a municipal assembly member in Yokohama outside Tokyo, and entered parliament in 1996.